Blockchain technology for environmental compliance: towards a choral approach


Blockchain technology is increasingly attracting the attention of governments and public institutions around the world. As a distributed ledger that is tamper resistant and available as a multiplicity of copies constantly updated in real time, it has the potential to profoundly innovate the way in which public registers are kept, enabling improved data management and faster data sharing. Above all, that technology heralds a potential withdrawal from the scene of the State and public authorities in general, by making it possible to certify the completion of particular activities or compliance with certain formal requirements without involving a centralized administrator or an independent third party. This Article examines the impact that blockchain technology could have on monitoring compliance with environmental regulations, rendering the process much more efficient thanks to its greater involvement of various non-public actors, including regulated entities and the general public. Specifically, blockchain allows for “dispersed” checks to ensure that environmental data have been submitted on time and are complete; this is in turn a prerequisite for subsequent checks, including substantive ones, into their accuracy as well as more effective enforcement of environmental law. At the same time, the technology lays the groundwork for the active involvement by regulated entities and the general public in the creation of public databases, giving rise to a system which I will refer to as “notarized transparency” within which environmental information is already reliable at the time it is created and can be more easily shared. This Article argues that the blockchain has the potential to reconfigure environmental protection according to a multi-polar logic, preventing (or at rate significantly reducing) instances of corruption, maladministration and regulatory capture. In this regard, it paves the way for a form of “choral participation” in the protection of the environment that is capable of generating higher levels of environmental compliance and transcending the juxtaposition between command-and-control and market-based tools. Under the entirely innovative approach thereby brought about, dynamic forces within society become directly involved both in the performance of functions that have previously fallen within the purview of public agencies as well as in reconfiguring certain traditional market mechanisms in innovative and potentially more effective terms.